Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz said Monday that he will not support a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, vowing “there will be no second disengagement” and saying that any diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians will be put to the people for a referendum.
“I am in favor of us pushing toward an agreement that is based on the principles of retaining control of the Jordan Valley, keeping the settlement blocs, no dividing Jerusalem, no returning to the ’67 lines, no move that is unilateral,” Gantz told a conference held by the religious-Zionist news site Srugim in Jerusalem, two weeks before the September 17 national election.
“There will not be another disengagement,” he pledged, referring to the 2005 evacuation of some 10,000 Israeli settlers from settlements in the Gaza Strip, collectively known as Gush Katif, and northern West Bank. “In the disengagement, there were mistakes we don’t want to repeat.”
His comments echoed comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said on Sunday that “there will not be another Gush Katif, there will be no more displacements.”
Speaking to elementary school students in the West Bank settlement of Elkana on the first day of the school year, Netanyahu also said that “with the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the Land of Israel, and as part of the State of Israel.” A Likud spokesperson later clarified that the prime minister was referring to Jewish communities in the West Bank, a move tantamount to annexation.
Asked if he too would support extending Israeli sovereignty to communities in the West Bank, such as those in the settlement blocs, which he said would remain under Israeli control, Gantz on Monday refused to either commit to the idea or rule it out.
“When it is relevant, if it is relevant, we will know how to,” he said, adding that any diplomatic deal would be put to the public.
“When the time comes, the people will decide. Any deal must be based on our values but the people will be the ones to decide… Every decision that has strategic implications will be put to the people to decide,” Gantz said.
The diplomatic program set out by Blue and White’s manifesto includes support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank, along with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians.
Though it promises “no second disengagement” — as Gantz said on Monday — the platform also says the party will “initiate a regional conference with the Arab countries that seek stability and deepen the process of separation from the Palestinians while maintaining uncompromising security interests of the State of Israel and the IDF’s freedom of action everywhere.”
Following Netanyahu’s Sunday comments, Blue and White’s number two, Yair Lapid, criticized the prime minister for calling for annexation.
“Netanyahu opened the school year with an announcement that he is interested in annexing 2.9 million Palestinians, giving them national insurance and next year funding their kids’ education.
“On the whole, makes sense,” Lapid added sarcastically.
During his campaign before April’s election, Netanyahu pledged to gradually apply Israeli law to West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long backed by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.
Last month, Netanyahu again vowed to push for Israeli sovereignty in “all parts” of the West Bank in response to the killing of 18-year-old Dvir Sorek in a Palestinian terror attack outside the Migdal Oz settlement.